Thursday, September 16, 2004

My name story.

Often times, when I am naughty or causing my mother grief, she often remarks in Kikuyu, my mother tongue,whether I realize how much suffering I caused her with my birth. I was born premature, weighing a kilo and a half and in the brink of death. My mother realizing that perhaps death was a stone throw away and coupled with the fear of burying an un-named child, baptized me Mary.

My mother choose Mary because she felt that least ifI’d have to step into the pearl gates, Saint Peter with all his fortitude and good grace, would welcome me with open arms. After all, she reckoned, I was named after Our Lady.

Growing up at home, I’d be known by the middle name.The ‘home name’ as we called it. This is not theEnglish/Christian name that you were known by at school. This is not the name the teachers would use to beckon you while punishing you. This was not the name the other kids would call you while you played kati, blada, or jump rope in the school field.

The home name was special, unique and known by a select few. The home name was familiar: it tied one to the smells of home, the guava tree in the backyard that periodically would bring forth sweet, yellow guavas of delicious tastes. The home name is what your grandmother would call you as she beckoned you to seat by her and listen to the stories. It’s the name that tied you to your mother, her mother and her mother before her. See, the home name is you

However, it caused inconsolable pain if anyone in school knew your ‘home name’. It symbolized how ‘uncouth’, ‘country’, ‘backward’ one was. It wasn’t cool to be known by your home name, let alone be called by that in school.

And so, for many years, I lived a rather schizophrenic existence. On one level,I was known by my home name and among the kids in school, it was the English/Christian name or what I’d call the good name.

During my first year of college, I met someone who shared both my first and last names. It was strange to realize that two parents other than my parents had decided to name their daughter with the same names as my parents had. I was no longer that bean among a basket of corn. The pearl inside to cowrie shell. I had a duplicate who responded to my good name. It was devastating.

It was this time, after the onslaught of puberty and entering into adulthood, that I was swimming in the quagmire of confusion. Who was I? What was my name? Did I ever really know myself? These questions lay heavy on my mind and so, I decided, in order to differentiate who I was then and who I desired to become, I choose to use my home name.

Nowadays, I use my home name out of a sense of muted urgency and demand than I did not demand or insist on back home. I no longer live in the house with a guava tree outside. I do not visit my grandmother and seat in her smoking kitchen, fighting the smoke induced tears with my hands. I don’t hear the sounds of early day break outside my window, nor hear my mother call me from the next room.

When asked what my home name means, depending on who asks, I say it either means shy or in-laws. It means both these things and more.

My name ties me to my past.
To the women who have birthed me, to the lovers that whispered my name in the dark. My name remind me of the place I call home. The history that is tied to the land, the blood that was shed, the trees that cast a shadow and offer rest to weary feet.

Nowadays, when I hear someone call my name: my home name, my real name, I smile. I am at rest. My home name is now home.


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